PHOENIX — A federal judge ruled Wednesday that the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office will have to work closely with a court-appointed monitor and plaintiffs in a racial-profiling lawsuit to demonstrate that the Sheriff's Office has addressed discriminatory practices.
The ruling for now brings to an end the racial-profiling lawsuit that began after a sheriff's deputy stopped a day laborer near Cave Creek, Ariz., in 2007, and details steps the Sheriff's Office must take to emerge from court-ordered oversight.
U.S. District Judge Murray Snow ruled in May that the Sheriff's Office had engaged in discrimination through its immigration-enforcement efforts, and attorneys for Sheriff Joe Arpaio and the American Civil Liberties Union have spent the months since negotiating a mutually agreeable resolution to address Snow's findings.
The sheriff's attorneys specifically resisted the notion of a court-appointed monitor and the idea of court-ordered community involvement.
Snow's ruling issued Wednesday outlines the role of the monitor and of community involvement and details some of the other internal steps the Sheriff's Office must take to demonstrate compliance, including creating an "implementation unit" that would serve as a liaison between the ACLU, the monitor and the Sheriff's Office.
Maricopa County, with more than 3.8 million residents, is the most populated county in Arizona and contains the state's largest city, Phoenix.
The Sheriff's Office declined to comment on the ruling and referred questions to the agency's attorney, Tim Casey. Casey said an appeal of Snow's decision will be forthcoming, but the agency will comply with the ruling in the meantime. Arpaio has tried to implement some elements of the ruling, such as creating a position dedicated to community outreach, but others, including the addition of cameras to every deputy's patrol car, will take more time.
But Casey said the Sheriff's Office was pleased with the monitor's role, as described by Snow, which puts the court-appointed expert and its staff in a position to review office policies, protocols and training and to perform after-action assessments of whether the agency is in compliance with the court ruling.
"The sheriff still remains in exclusive charge of the (Maricopa County Sheriff's Office), he still sets the policy, still sets the programs and makes the sole decision on discretionary items," Casey said. "The monitor has absolutely no veto power whatsoever on any law-enforcement decision."
Dan Pochoda, legal director of the ACLU of Arizona, said the plaintiffs never asked for a monitor who would replace Arpaio, but rather someone who could review all the sheriff's training material and data the agency will have to collect because of the court ruling to make sure the constitutional violations of the past don't repeat themselves.
In that regard, Snow gave the plaintiffs everything they were asking for to try to address the violations they saw for so long in the Sheriff's Office, Pochoda said.
"I do think they need the ruling. It does appear there have been some changes (in the Sheriff's Office), some that have to do with other factors," he said. "But I believe that there's still a significant culture that exists that led to the discrimination and led to some of the stereotyping of Latinos and Mexicans. That doesn't change overnight and it's not easy."
The ruling included some immediate changes to sheriff's policies to reinforce existing court injunctions against deputies detaining people based purely on a suspect's "unlawful presence" in the country without any other violations. The ruling also prohibits deputies from engaging in "pre-textual" traffic stops to engage in immigration screening, such as stopping cars for broken taillights to question the driver and passengers about their status — a hallmark of Arpaio's controversial immigration raids.
Snow expressed some skepticism in hearings earlier this year about the need for him to order Arpaio to engage in some sort of community outreach, but the order also included requirements that within three months of the ruling's effective date, the Sheriff's Office needs to hire a bilingual deputy to serve as community liaison officer. In addition, the ruling creates a six-member community advisory board — three appointed by the Sheriff's Office and three by the ACLU — that should meet at least three times per year to ensure dialogue between the Sheriff's Office and community leaders.
The ruling also notes that the monitor shall review sheriff's operations to ensure that the federal court order is met, but states that sheriff's deputies can conduct operations in pressing circumstances as long as they follow the language of the court order.
Snow's ruling is more specific when it comes to operations targeting undocumented immigrants and those that involve a large number of deputies or posse members. Within 30 days of those operations, deputies will have to hold a community-outreach meeting that identifies the objectives and results of the operation, according to the ruling.
If those operations specifically target immigrants, the Sheriff's Office has to notify the monitor and the ACLU within 24 hours unless the notification could jeopardize an ongoing criminal investigation, in which case Snow will review the information under seal, according to the ruling.
The ruling goes on to include details about training, data collection and supervisory oversight of deputies.
The Sheriff's Office will have to demonstrate compliance for three consecutive years before the agency can emerge from court oversight, Snow ruled.
Arpaio's attorneys have indicated they might appeal Snow's May ruling but have said they would wait for his final order before making a decision.
The case began when Manuel de Jesus Ortega Melendres, a Mexican tourist in the United States legally, was stopped outside a church in Cave Creek where day laborers were known to gather. Melendres, the passenger in a car driven by a driver who is white, claimed that deputies detained him for nine hours and that the detention was unlawful.
Eventually, the case grew to include complaints from two Hispanic siblings from Chicago who said they were profiled by sheriff's deputies and from an assistant to former Phoenix Mayor Phil Gordon whose Hispanic husband claimed he was detained and cited while nearby white motorists were treated differently.
The lawsuit did not seek monetary damages. Instead, plaintiffs asked for the kind of relief the Sheriff's Office has resisted in the past: a declaration that spells out what deputies may or may not do when stopping potential suspects, and a court-appointed monitor to make sure the agency lives by those rules.
Snow gave each side 20 hours to present its case in a tightly controlled trial that took place in late July and early August last year in the federal courthouse in downtown Phoenix.
Attorneys for the plaintiffs took a three-pronged approach, using Arpaio's own statements about undocumented immigrants, along with racially insensitive requests from constituents for immigration enforcement, to show what they described as a callous attitude by Arpaio toward the rights of Latinos and his agency's intention to discriminate.
Data showing that Latino drivers were more likely to be stopped during the sheriff's immigration sweeps, and that those stops were likely to last longer, was designed to show the outcome of that intent. And statements from residents who claimed they were victims of profiling was intended to illustrate the impact of the sheriff's policies.